Earlier this month, a draft EPA report obtained by ProPublica showed that the first tests of the burn pollution taken by Army officials inside the plant detected higher levels of some pollutants than previous computer models had estimated. Arsenic was emitted at rates 37 times greater than what federal officials had previously estimated when determining the burns were safe for public health. Lead — dangerous to children’s cognitive development — was emitted at five times the level estimated to be safe. Cadmium, silver and methyl chloride also exceeded previous estimates.
The new air monitor will be purchased by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, with a grant from the EPA, and will cost $26,000. It will mainly detect lead levels, but a DEQ spokesman says arsenic and chromium may also be part of the monitoring.
According to the spokesman, the monitor’s installation has been planned since the spring, and is unrelated to ProPublica’s reporting about the open burn practices in Radford. The monitor is being installed to comply with new EPA guidelines requiring monitoring for facilities that are known to emit lead in excess of new federal ambient air quality standards proposed by the EPA in 2015. In numerous interviews with the agency’s staff over the past four months, plans to install the monitor were never mentioned.
Once in place, the monitor could provide the first concrete answers for a region that has been seeking them more than a half a century. DEQ officials could not say when the monitor would begin operating or how soon its findings would be available to the public.